Friday, September 04, 2009

Education and Politics in the United States : The Obama Motivational Speech to American Students and the International Ranking of Universities

Education is the most important undertaking of any country and so it is admirable of President Obama to offer a motivational speech to American students across the nation. If I were a student today - I would be honored to have the U.S. President want to talk to ME.

Those same students today can hear the well-meaning but sometimes misguided opinions of their self-important parents or local officials and gurus at any time - so give the President this one shot to reach a student where others have failed.

Any school or individual that prohibits a student from hearing a message directed to him or her by the President of the United States is practicing a form of tyrannical paternalism that would warm every tyrant's heart. Anyone disagreeing with the content of that message is free to inform the student(s) personally of contrary opinions. That is the American way. Squelching the opportunity to hear is un-American and violates free speech guarantees. Content-chilling thuggery by parents or local or regional school officials is not democracy.

As a political centrist, it is difficult for the LawPundit to understand - as reported by the New York Times - the partisan political stir caused by U.S. President Obama's plan to deliver a motivational speech to American students to start the school year. There is precedent for such a speech, as President George Bush made such a speech in 1991.

There is no excuse for partisan politics here.

The newest results in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show that there is room for improvement of American education starting in elementary school. For example, let us take a look at the ranking of mathematics scores of fourth-grade students by participating country in 2007, the most recent published data (500 is the TIMSS "scale average"), where the U.S. is not even in the top 10.
"1. Hong Kong SAR - 607
2. Singapore - 599
3. Chinese Taipei - 576
4. Japan - 568
5. Kazakhstan - 549
6. Russian Federation - 544
7. England - 541
8. Latvia - 537
9. Netherlands - 535
10. Lithuania - 530
11. United States - 529
12. Germany - 525
13. Denmark - 523
14. Australia - 516
15. Hungary - 510
16. Italy - 507
17. Austria - 505
18. Sweden - 503
19. Slovenia 502
20. Armenia - 500
21. Slovak Republic - 496
22. Scotland - 494
23. New Zealand - 492
24. Czech Republic - 486
25. Norway - 473
26. Ukraine - 469
27. Georgia - 438
28. Iran, Islamic Rep. of - 402
29. Algeria - 378
30. Colombia - 355
31. Morocco - 341
32. El Salvador - 330
33. Tunisia - 327
34. Kuwait - 316
35. Qatar - 296
36. Yemen - 224
Nevertheless, showing that the hearts of the elites of the country are in the right place, the United States has the best education in the world at its top universities, but the rest of the educational system is subject to improvement. You can read as much at Education in the United States at the Wikipedia. We quote Mary Faler at Suite101.com in her posting, The State of Education in the United States: Why America is Behind Other Countries:
"In 2002, UNICEF compared public education in twenty four nations around the world: the US ranked 18. Forty years ago America had the highest graduation rate: now America is ranked as the 19th. US 4th grade math grades have remained the same since 1995, while other countries have improved....

American students are holding their own at the elementary level, but as they progress through the system, they fall behind their international counterparts....

To fix the problem political leaders should stand up and pay attention – getting involved goes a long way
.
"
Well, that is what President Obama is doing - standing up, paying attention and getting involved.

As far as university education goes, America leads the world by a massive margin, as proven by an Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) conducted objectively in Shanghai, China, where Harvard, Stanford and Cal Berkeley in the USA rank 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the world with Cambridge in the UK in 4th place, followed by MIT, Caltech, Columbia, Princeton, and Chicago in the USA 5th through 9th and finally Oxford in the UK 10th. The top 25 are rounded out by the universities at Yale, Cornell, UCLA, San Diego, Penn, Washington (Seattle), Wisconsin (Madison), San Francisco, Tokyo, Johns Hopkins, Michigan, University College of London, Kyoto, ETH Zurich and Toronto (tied). :
"The Academic Ranking of World Universities [1] is compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The ranking compared 1200 higher education institutions worldwide according to a formula that took into account alumni winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (10 percent), staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (20 percent), highly-cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories (20 percent), articles published in Nature and Science (20 percent), the Science Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index (20 percent) and the per capita academic performance (on the indicators above) of an institution (10 percent). The methodology is set out in an academic article by its originators, N.C. Liu and Y. Cheng[2]. Liu and Cheng explain that the original purpose of doing the ranking was to find out the gap between Chinese universities and world-class universities, particularly in terms of academic or research performance.”[3] The rankings have been conducted since 2003 and then updated annually."
There are also special lists there, by the way, for the Top 100 North & Latin American Universities, Top 100 European Universities and Top 100 Asia Pacific Universities.

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